Wednesday, February 21, 2018


The famous castrato singer Senesino, with the soprano Francesca Cuzzoni and alto castrato Gaetano Berenstadt in Händel's Flavio (London, 1723), in a caricature by John Vanderbank. Wikimedia Commons.

So David Brooks was begging Twitter to come and kill him yesterday morning ("Respect First, Then Gun Control") advising, as his title implies, that "we" need to get "our" priorities straight, and trying to stop America's schoolchildren from getting shot up with semi-automatic rifles must come second to stopping America's rightwingers from feeling less than wholly admired. Old white sumbitches have feelings too! If you'd just show them some of that R-E-S-P-E-C-T, effete liberal elitists, they'd ban those AR-15s in a heartbeat!

And Twitter obliged, as you can imagine. Don't know anybody who hit the appropriate note better than this:
Which Driftglass also felt obliged to reproduce, because what else is there to say, really? But I like mine, to tell the truth:

Well, did he actually say that? Uh, yes, he did; if we want to save our kids from the slaughter, we'd better be ready to show the gun owners a little more humility:

If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it is that guns have become a cultural flash point in a nation that is unequal and divided. The people who defend gun rights believe that snobbish elites look down on their morals and want to destroy their culture. If we end up telling such people that they and their guns are despicable, they will just despise us back and dig in their heels.
So if you want to stop school shootings it’s not enough just to vent and march. It’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points. There has to be trust and respect first. Then we can strike a compromise on guns as guns, and not some sacred cross in the culture war.
Because nobody suffers from inequality like the guy who can afford to spend $1800 on a rifle and then buys more than one of them, as Marc Fisher reported at Wapo:
Even as much of the advertising for the rifle centers on sport use and self-defense, the AR-15 has spawned a sprawling industry that serves and generates assault-rifle hobbyists. Enthusiasts sometimes describe the AR-15 as “the man’s Barbie doll,” an almost infinitely malleable collectible that owners can accessorize with infrared scopes, grips, flashlights and other add-ons. On average, AR-15 owners hold at least three versions of the firearm and spend more than $400 per rifle to accessorize them, according to industry research.
Including $500 for a "drop-in trigger" that will allow you to empty your 30-round magazine with continuous fire as from a machine gun instead of having to pull that trigger every darn time. And nobody worries about snooty liberals judging his morals harshly more than the guy in the corner screaming about teh gay and the abortionists and the welfare cheats and prayer in the schools. Those poor guys are the abjectest of the abject. Can't you show a little compassion?

Brooks is projecting on me his own deep prejudice against the gun owner, who he regards as afflicted by the conditions he despises most, poverty and sexual impulsiveness. Odds are he's never met an actual rural gun owner (not an important member of the Trump coalition numerically), or he'd know those guys have similar sentiments on the subject of poverty and sex to his own, and also have no more use for an AR-15 than a vibrator. Probably less. They are among the 68% of the population that thinks a ban on assault rifles is a good idea, and skeptical about any kind of uninformed outsider gun use, ever since they were scared out of their wits one deer season by some jerk from Westchester or Jersey armed and drunk at 5:00 in the morning in the woods. Unfortunately they've also been manipulated into the fantasy of a Democrats' conspiracy to take all the guns. But it's mostly aging BoBos in suburbs playing rugged outdoor guy who are collecting the semiautomatic rifles, now that they're too old to go out endangering the population of the countryside, who also voted Trump, of course, plus that tiny minority of strange loner guys ("He seemed so quiet") who are really a threat.

Most of the Brooks column is actually about the details of how we liberals can go show our compassion to those benighted souls, and indeed how they can show their compassion to us, because Brooks isn't saying they're guiltless either, with the aid of a kind of circuit court of niceness that will travel the country arbitrating:

I’ve been thinking about a group that’s in the trust and respect business. Better Angels is a nonprofit led by David Lapp, David Blankenhorn and a prominent family therapist, Bill Doherty. The team members travel from town to town finding members of the Red and Blue Tribes and bringing them together for long, humbling conversations.
I have to say there's something appealing to me about the idea of these conversations, maybe just because I think I'd be good at them, or to put it more blandly, because the game is stacked in the liberals' favor—designed to liberalize the participants, to make each side more open, accepting, and empathetic. Brooks naturally can't see this, because he's bothsidesing it for all he's worth, but it's clearly what happens:

Doherty, the head moderator, asks the people at each gathering to name five major stereotypes that the other side throws at them. The Republicans invariably list “racist” first, followed by, say, “uncaring,” “uneducated,” “misogynistic” and “science deniers.”... When Blues are asked about the stereotypes thrown at them, they tend to list “against religion and morality,” “unpatriotic” and “against personal responsibility” among their responses. They, too, relish the chance to clear the air.
After the stereotypes are discussed, the room feels different. As one Red in Ohio told Lawson, “I think we are all pretty clear on one thing: Don’t tell us who we are and what we think.” Another Red was moved almost to tears by the damage categories do. “We’re not just cookie-cutter people; we’re individuals. Just because you don’t like something, you don’t have to ridicule it — you probably don’t understand it,” she said. “When someone’s heart is full up with something, and then you demean it without even listening to them — I hate that.”
I could have told her that without the help of the moderator, and then there's the question whether she's going to go applying that moment of enlightenment to her views of the dark forces conservatives feel their lives and cultures are threatened by, the masses of the different, all alike and all evil, trying to take her stuff and make her feel like the weird one—that blacks and Mexicans and gays and atheists and gun opponents are also not "cookie-cutter people". I'm positive, by the way, that these groups aren't all-white, but in the Brooks column the existence of racial differences anywhere in the universe is unmentioned, and in the conversations as reported at the Better Angels website, nonwhite people in particular come up only as mass objects of discussion, like the national debt or gun laws, not as individual subjects, humans who could be in the discussion:
Blue example: “I think that Democrats have been out of touch with a lot of people in rural communities and Rust Belt towns. Trump picked up on that.” Red example: “I think that conservatives can sometimes come across like they don’t care about minorities. Liberals have done a better job of connecting with minority groups.”
It's as if they really were an all-white group, in which conservatives see themselves as needing to connect with (otherized) groups; Democrats as needing to connect with (white) people within groups. The "Blues" already know the people not at the table aren't all the same, and nothing pressures the "Reds" to learn that. So it's a little like a situation comedy setup, where everybody can agree on the pat liberal resolution but nobody changes, the liberals because they're already there, at least in theory, and the conservatives because they aren't challenged to do so but surrounded with liberal compassion and hugs. Everybody goes home in a warm wrapping of improved self-esteem but no really new thoughts.

Brooks sees these kinds of interaction as prelude to a session of "compromise" in which everybody finds that "middle ground" of policy that we all agree on, but I think that's an Underpants Gnomes scenario; where's it going to come from? And why? We might all decide that Stephen Douglas is a nicer guy than he's commonly given credit for being, but do we really want him to win the 1860 election?

Or maybe that's what's intended. Brooks's vision of the Good Society is on view here in a lot more detail here than usual, and it looks like a recipe for maximal inaction in a kind of neutrocracy, or rule by people who have no opinions. You've got your parties (Brooks is following Better Angels practice in insisting on referring to them only as Red and Blue instead of the meaningful names, as if to lay a claim that the distinction is really as arbitrary as the chariot race teams that ran politics in imperial Rome), and you've got your refs or facilitators above them, teaching them that the differences that separate them are really superficial and the best legislation is the one that can get all the votes, that is the one that does the least to upset one set of ideas or the other.

In this way the disopinionated would be the ones really running things, in a way that's in fact rhetorically liberal but effectively conservative, as in the perspective Brooks himself adopts in the column, where he asserts the liberal imperative ("we" must do something about school shootings) and the conservative restraint (but only something that everybody feels good about, i.e. in principle nothing) at the same time. It's very clever, really—more a journalistic pose than a political plan, I imagine. I hope I'm not wrong.

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